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Rice Calls Plan At U.N. Crucial Step to Peace

The United States and France agreed on the proposed Security Council resolution Saturday to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group. The resolution calls for a "full cessation of hostilities," including the immediate end of Hezbollah attacks and "all offensive military operations" by Israel.

The proposal also lays out the framework for a permanent cease-fire that would involve the withdrawal of Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters from southern Lebanon. The measure would also call for Hezbollah to disarm.

Bush administration officials said they would hope to follow passage of the first resolution "within days" with a second measure authorizing deployment of an international force that would occupy southern Lebanon until the Lebanese military can establish authority in the region, which is now effectively controlled by Hezbollah.

Rice said that the proposal does not give Israel and Lebanon everything they want but that it is a "reasonable, equitable" way to address the crisis.

"There can't be a return to the status quo ante , which is extremely important to all the parties," Rice said. "Because we don't want to create a situation in which we get out of this, and then you create the conditions in which Hezbollah, a state within a state, goes across the line again, abducts soldiers, and we get another war."

Bush administration officials have insisted that the agreement allow the Lebanese government to extend its authority into the south, an area that has been used as a base for attacks against Israel for two decades.

The proposal also calls for Secretary General Kofi Annan to develop proposals to delineate borders on a disputed stretch of land abutting Israel, Syria and Lebanon -- a key issue because Hezbollah has justified keeping weapons there by saying the group is fighting Israeli occupation that began during the 1967 war.

"We're trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years," Rice said. "And so it's not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council."

At the United Nations, Security Council diplomats said, representatives debated the U.S. and French text in closed-door sessions. The council's lone Arab government, Qatar, introduced amendments on behalf of Lebanon.

The changes address Lebanese concerns that the text would permit Israel to carry out defensive military operations while constraining Hezbollah from engaging in any military action. Lebanon also maintains that the resolution would allow Israel to remain in southern Lebanon indefinitely.

The amendments called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and military operations by both sides, and demanded that the Israeli forces withdraw from southern Lebanon as soon as the truce is approved.

They also called for the simultaneous release of Lebanese and Israeli prisoners and detainees through the Red Cross. Israel and the United States oppose a prisoner exchange because they think it would reward Hezbollah for capturing the two Israeli soldiers and killing six others.

Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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